History of the Cape Fear Yacht Club
Along the margin of the wide Cape Fear
Beyond the surging waves there is a fort
Which guards the entrance to the channel’s course,
To the friendly ships a sure and safe resort,
But hazardous to every hostile force.
The coast is dangerous, as its name implies,
But on the opposing point a lighthouse gleams,
Which mid the terrors of the hostile skies
Gladdens the sailor with its cheerful beam,
And in the blackest night most like a spirit seems.
So wrote a lowly lieutenant stationed at Ft. Johnston in Smithville, NC in July of 1843. This is but a portion of a poem he wrote that describes how he saw this area. The young, faceless lieutenant respected the river he defended and later in his life, he would command the same respect from others. The young lieutenant was Abner Doubleday, who would become a Major General and the inventor of baseball. And Smithville, well it would become Southport.
Situated at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Southport would not exist were it not for the river and the ocean she spills into. Pirates, armies and navies have fought for the honor of possessing the river and the fortifications that were built to protect her. River pilots and fishermen have always gotten their livelihoods from her and boaters have gotten endless pleasure from her.
Today you can still see the old forts and river pilots still shepherd the big ships safely in and out of the river and fishermen still reap her fishy harvests, but it is the pleasure boaters who get the most enjoyment out of her. It was from this last group that the Cape Fear Yacht Club was born in early 1994.
The Cape Fear Yacht Club was formed for those who appreciate boats and the water that floats them. It was also felt that Southport should recognize and be recognized for its true mother -the Cape Fear River.
In April 1992 Rick Johnstone and Mark Tallon worked with Port Charlie’s Restaurant to have a sailboat race on the Cape Fear River. The first “Southport Port Charlie’s Waterway Sunday Sailboat Race Rocket Regatta” was held on April 26, 1992. The race was a big hit with the sailors and the townspeople. This first race generated a host of others -five more Port Charlie’s sponsored races and two by Yacht Basin Provision Company -that have all used the river as part of the course.
By 1993 Tallon and Johnstone, along with Hank Grupe and George Moore III, began talking about forming a yacht club. Weekly they would meet and anchor off Battery Island to discuss the practicality and details of what was needed to get a yacht club started. These four individuals appointed themselves as the first Flag Officers of the Cape Fear Yacht Club and began the process of getting the club out of the water. Grupe was appointed as the Commodore, Tallon as Vice Commodore, Moore the Rear Commodore and Johnstone the Fleet Captain. A membership drive was then started in 1994 and the Cape Fear Yacht Club was formally begun.
The main goal for 1994 was simple, just get the Club started. The club officially got its start during Southport’s annual Fourth of July Festival with a successful sailboat race and a cocktail party. Other goals fell into place as the year progressed: Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws and the appointment of an interim Board of Governors.
1995, the first full year of operation, was a banner year beginning with a formal commissioning ceremony attended by a large portion of the member- ship. Then there was the Blessing or the Fleet followed later in the spring by a nautical flea market then pot lucks, raft-ups, cocktail parties, a lobster roast, the Commodore’s Ball in full regalia and finally the Christmas Tree Trimming Party finished the season. Nearly every week there was a club social event to “keep the membership entertained and amused”. With all this excitement our “1” membership swelled to 115 members.
The real highlight of 1995, however, was the Summer Race Series with five boats qualifying for the seven races. Seldom Seen took top honors. In 1995 we also achieved full membership in US SAILING and SAYRA.
Mark Tallon became Commodore in March 1996. The highlight of the ‘96 season was acquisition of four Sunfish sail training craft and the inaugural year of the youth sailing program. Eighteen young sailors and a bunch of adults had a wonderful time during the three-week program this summer. The finale was a graduation ceremony, a barbecue cook out and a chance to crew on the “big boats” that weekend.
The social program for 1996 was another huge success” Highlights were the New Member Party, Sailor’s Potluck, Dinner Cruise to Blue Water Point, Round Raft Barbecue, Oktoberfest and the blockbuster Commodore’s Ball.
The racing season was a bit abbreviated due to uninvited guests named Bertha and Fran. Rob Gandy once again skippered Seldom Seen to capture top honors in the Summer Series. The big race on the 4th of July, part of the North Carolina Festival was a great success with a number of large visiting boats participating. The spinnaker finish off downtown Southport drew thou- sands of spectators to the waterfront.
The ‘97 season was a leisurely nine months of sailboat races, cruises, raft-ups, barbecues and assorted other maritime social events. In February a contingent of club officers headed by Commodore Mark Tallon traveled to Hilton Head for the annual SAYRA meeting. They returned with an enthusiasm that set the tone for the entire season. Once again, the youth sail-training program was the event of the summer with 30 young people spending a month on a huge floating raft in the Marina basin. No one that worked or trained there will ever forget the summer they spent on “Yacht Club Island”.
And again, Seldom Seen handily took first place in the 1997 Summer Series despite being out of the water for more than a month after a momentous collision during the Rocket Regatta in April. After three years, Danelly I was finally able to slip in front of Lucky Tiger to take second place.
One of the most profound events of the 1998 season happened early on in April when the CFYC Youth Sailing Team went to the Leukemia Cup invitational races in Wrightsville Beach and walked off with all three places in the Opti one-design class. This launched us into another extremely successful summer youth sailing program for which the club is becoming regionally famous. Another major one-design event took place in September when the club sponsored the Second Annual Around Oak Island Sunfish Race, thought to be the longest Sunfish race in the world. It too, was a huge success. Finally, ‘98 saw our long awaited fishing tournament program get underway with the deep sea bill fish tournament and the monthly “3’s Allowed” competition.
Participation in club events was the highest ever. We doubled the size of the youth sailing program by adding a second two-week session. PHRF racing had a record number of boats both for the Summer Series and the Commodore’s Regatta. Social events also had record turnouts capped off by the Commodore’s Ball, which has truly become one of the bright jewels of the Southport social season.
1998 marked the end of our beginnings with our beloved Commodore Mark Tallon, Charter Member #1, stepping down after three great years of inspired leadership of a very young and fast growing club. He left the Cape Fear Yacht Club in excellent physical, moral and financial shape.
In 1999 Dr. Keith Reschly became Commodore of the club bringing with him an intense enthusiasm to the office. The very successful boating and social season was largely overshadowed by the competition for the 2007 Pan-Am Games. Southport and Oak Island were picked to be the sailing venue for the North Carolina bid for the Games. And the Cape Fear Yacht Club was picked as host for the competition. A huge amount of work was done by Club members in support of the North Carolina bid but at the end of the season the USOC picked Texas as the US entrant in the Pan-Am Games sweepstakes.
This was also the first full season of use of the Yacht Club Beach on the harbor in downtown Southport. Improved with signs, bridge, storage container for sails and rigging and the Commodore Tallon Flag Pole, the Beach has become the focal point for the youth sailing program as well as many social and ceremonial functions.
The end of the ‘99 season was also significantly marred by the successive hits of hurricanes Dennis, Floyd and Irene. Hurricane Flo
The year 2000 marked a milestone in the club’s history with the opening of the first ever CFYC clubhouse. The club took possession of 2500 sq. feet in what was once the Harborside Restaurant right across the street from the Southport Marina. The facility was opened for business on October 1 just over six years after the club’s inception. This was one of many firsts for the year.
The 2000 season marked the first ever division of the PHRF fleet into Racing and Cruising classes for the PHRF Summer Series. Record participation provided six participants in the Racing class and ten boats in the Cruising class. The kayak/canoe fleet held the first No Octane Regatta. The Radio Controlled Sailing fleet became one of the fastest growing fleets in the club and completed the first CFYC Radio Controlled Sailboat Racing Series. The club acquired two Lasers establishing the CFYC Laser fleet. For the first time in club history the CFYC sent a 10-member youth team to the SAYRA Youth Challenge Cup to race in Optimist, Sunfish, and Laser classes. The youth program sailed out the Cape Fear River channel past the COLREGS Demarcation line, and into the ocean before landing on Caswell Beach and then sailing back to the CFYC Beach. It was one of the most successful cruising seasons in the history of the club with well-attended trips to Little River, Wrightsville Beach and Beaufort. The Christmas Flotilla was the biggest yet with fifteen boats participating.
Several successful raft-ups were held, with record turnouts. The Rocket Regatta was the first PHRF race of the season, and it became the first two-race invitational event of the CFYC. The Commodore’s Regatta fielded 14 boats and put on a great show for spectators ashore during the 4th of July Festival. The Stede Bonnett Regatta was reminiscent of the fate of the race’s namesake with many vessels ending their participation in the race by either running aground, or running out of patience in the light airs.
Under the leadership of Commodore Tom Harrington, the 2001 season marked another successful year in our PHRF Racing and Cruising Summer Series. This series brought us 6 participants in or racing fleet and fourteen participants in our Cruising F. Captain Robert Creech on C-Breeze II took the season in cruising and Joe Benkel skippered Remembrance to first place in racing fleet. The season closed with the first annual Frost Bite Regatta added to our impressive array of invitational and club races. We continued another successful cruising season with cruises to Little River, Wrightsville Beach and Beaufort.
Once again, we had an outstanding Youth Training Program. We had two paid instructors plus Mark Tallon, Henry Bridgers and many other support people on the beaches to support our Youth Training Program.
In 2002 we had good support for the Leukemia Cup. Several of our racers participated in the racing events. Mark & Carol Tallon served as race committee for the inshore races while Jerry and Lois Gable served Race Committee for the ocean races. Club Members Bruce and Susan McKimens won the much vaunted Cup. Despite the extremely rough weather, all had a great time.
Under Commodore Billy Coleman, 2002 was considered as a fleet and program building year. Our very successful youth training program and summer sailing camp developed over six years by Henry Bridgers and assisted by a large array of members was further refined in 2002 by Leslie Reschly into a more focused program, serving fewer youth sailors at a higher level. To give our club members a step up from Sunfish and Lasers, our club purchased three Club 420’s. This also helped launch our small boat racing series on high tide Sundays. In support of these expanded efforts on the water, the club added three new support boats: a pontoon boat, a 19’ bateau, and a 17’ Boston Whaler.
The Summer Series PHRF races were the highlight of the season for those members and crews bitten hard by the big boat racing bug. Ed Schrum aboard Lucky Tiger took First in the Cruising Class while 10-acious skippered by John Kluttz won the racing class.
Our lease on the clubhouse was up at the end of 2003 and the landlord demolished it to make way for new condos. In the meantime our sailing, cruising, youth and social programs reached their all time highs. The next two years were spent studying, planning and acquiring land for our new clubhouse at South Harbour Marina. Construction occupied much of 2005 and 2006. The doors were opened to a world class facility in June 2006. The design won a national award for our architect and Member, Rich Bandera
A new facility with all its amenities including a strip of land on the east side of the marina for boat storage and plenty of beach just across the road for the youth program reinvigorated the club. A flood of new members augmented the old time stalwarts to give us a true cosmopolitan feel. The youth sailing program reached an all-time high during the summer of 2009.
A liquor license was obtained in 2015 and the Club Bar began helping augment the Club’s income. Private rentals of the facility are now able to benefit from this new amenity.
The Club became a participant in the Southport July 4th Annual Parade in beginning in 2018, with a float featuring our Youth Sail Program. Several members’ grandchildren, students of the program & youth instructors participate in riding and walking in the parade.
The 25th Anniversary was celebrated in 2019 with a membership drive offering an initiation fee of only $25. A flurry of new members arrived during this time. A party commemorating the anniversary was held with at least nine past commodore’s attending.
The years of 2020 and 2021 were years of both full and partial shut downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and after at first, membership numbers dropping off considerably, resurgence took place with many new members joining. A partnership was struck with Safe Haven Marina, allowing transient boaters a pass to visit our Bar on Fridays and Saturday evenings. In return, our members were given priority when looking to rent boat slips.